Researchers at the Yale School of Public Health found that discrimination against older people comes with a hefty price tag.

The study found that ageism, a form of stereotyping against people on the basis of their age, led to excess health care costs of $63 billion over the course of one year in the United States. The study was published in the journal The Gerontologist on Nov. 13. This study is the first to quantify how factors such as discrimination toward the elderly, negative age stereotypes and negative self-perception of aging increase health care costs.

“I’ve been interested in the impact of cultural views of aging on older persons’ health for a while,” said Becca Levy, lead author of the study and professor of public health and psychology. “My research is focused on the ways in which cultural views of aging can impact older persons’ health, but people with more of a business or policy perspective always ask ‘What is the financial cost?’ This was a way to try to make an aspect of the financial cost visible and more explicit. We’ve looked at health costs before but not the financial costs.”

The health care costs of ageism were computed by combining the impact of ageism predictors — which include negative age stereotypes and negative self-perception of aging — with health care spending data for the eight most expensive health care conditions among Americans 60 years or older. These conditions included cardiovascular diseases, chronic respiratory diseases, diabetes, mental disorders and smoking.

The team found that the one-year cost associated with ageism in the United States was $63 billion, which amounts to one of every seven dollars spent on the eight health conditions considered.

Iggy Chang SPH ’22, co-author of the study, said this data would likely be valuable for policymakers.

“This is the first time that we’ve been able to put a price tag on ageism, and that’s relevant and important for policymakers. Reducing ageism saves money and improves health. Ideally, this study will help to move this issue forward and make it more clear that this form of prejudice and discrimination is important,” Chang said. “The main message is to consider that we can achieve social justice and it can be cost effective.”

Additionally, the team found that ageism was responsible for 17.04 million cases of eight health conditions over the course of one year. Therefore, even a 10 percent reduction in the prevalence of ageism could result in 1.7 million fewer cases of the eight health conditions.

According to the study, the data analyses integrate both predictors studied by social psychologists and outcomes studied by economists — two fields which do not customarily interact. Levy noted that the team collaborated with a health economics outcomes researcher, using health economics methodologies to calculate the costs for each condition. The team then incorporated social psychology studies that investigated the impact of ageism predictors on health outcomes.

Sneha Kannoth SPH ’18, postgraduate associate and co-author of the study, said that she hopes this study will help alter the stereotypes of ageism. Ageism does not receive the amount of attention it deserves, especially given the impact that ageism can have on an individual, she added.

“According to stereotype embodiment theory, if during childhood you think that older adults are weak and frail, that view becomes self-relevant as you age,” Kannoth said. “If we can encourage a stereotype shift, maybe we can save health care costs and decrease the number cases of health care conditions.”

Between 2015 and 2050, the proportion of the world’s population over the age of 60 will double, going from 12 to 25 percent, according to the World Health Organization.

Madison Mahoney | madison.mahoney@yale.edu